The Journey to here.
Chronicles of a Makeup Artist...
Looking at the tears streaming down my face and feeling utterly helpless, lost once again in the storm of my grief, I decided I needed to do something different and it was waaaay out of my comfort zone. Instead of doing what I always do, which I taught myself to do when I was young to help myself cope with the grief of losing my birth Mother (her family nickname was Nell) and since used for every Mother I’ve had in my life. You see, I seem to be allergic to Mothers or maybe it’s the other way around and they are allergic to me…
The thing I decided that day in my bathroom to do was to speak out, to talk about my story. Here is your warning: This story has been very hard to write and it sure as hell was hard to live through which means I also understand that it may be hard to read. I have seen the look of shock and horror on the beautiful faces of a few of my friends that I made a deep connection with and have told part of my story to. The look is understandable because I can completely empathise with the guilt that you feel when you are talking about life and find out that hurtful and heartbreaking things have happened to someone you know and love. I have always felt bad in those moments for my beloved friends because it’s a hard story to hear and they feel like they are hurting me in some way because they asked me to talk about my path but the truth is, it is my story. I lived through this life and the person you see today is the survivor of it. So if you are not up for this journey with me, now is the time to bow out and not read any further. I completely understand. x FF
I would like to say first and foremost that everybody has a story. EVERY SINGLE PERSON GOES THROUGH SOMETHING THAT CHANGES THEM. It rattles you to your core and starts a chain of events from your mind that makes you move differently, to do something different. Going through that exact experience will make you make a change in your life. Whatever it is around you, something will happen to you that will make you evolve in some type of way. We all go through this process and it’s a part of life.
My story is no better or worse than anyone else’s. It is a story among billions of others. Some people have amazing childhoods and experience their life changing events in the middle or later in their lives. I just happened to go through some of my big stuff early in life and some of those things I’m still dealing with to this very day. Like my grief again, right now.
I had thought that I had definitely dealt with my grief of losing Nell as I have lived with it for forty-two years of my life. It wasn’t till the early years of being a Mother myself, when I had no choice but to face my grief for the first time. Becoming a Mother has been the biggest joy in my life and it has taught me so much about myself, life and others. And the most important thing I’ve learnt from being a Mother is how to love another human being unconditionally. My own little human is the most important thing in my life and the reason why I wake up everyday and continue on my path. Becoming a Mother made me really stand in front of my grief, examine it under a microscope and see it for what it really is. That it is a mind deafening, so loud you cannot escape its constant sadness that floats above your very existence as well as through and in it. It just is. I will always be thankful that becoming my Sons Mother started the journey of me processing my grief because up until then I had always held it in. I have told my Son that he is the reason I am here and it is because he taught me how important it is to be alive. I want to be here for him as long as I can. I came through my grieving process and out the other side, well supported by my loving husband and son. I went back to feeling calm about my Mothers death; I had accepted my fate and hers.
Until when it started again in a downpour of emotional energy two years ago, which coincided with the 40th anniversary of losing Nell. I could not stop crying. I started the year feeling quite normal for me emotionally, I try really hard to be positive and live with a positive outlook and I had lined up an amazing trip, my first trip to the US (I ended up going again later that year). I was feeling strong (for the most part) and really inspired. The year itself turned out to be what I think of as the best of times and the worst of times. I knew in my heart that it was my Mum’s 40th anniversary. It was on my radar but not ruling or hurting me. My two trips to the US were the highlights, without them it would have been a completely different year. I came unstuck when my PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) took its usual yearly flight around my aura, mind and heart. The thing I find with my PTSD is, it creeps up on me. It slowly but surely makes it’s way back into the edges of my spiritual being but thankfully now, I’m at a point where I notice it fairly quickly. Before when I was younger, I would be in the full grip of grief with deep sides of anxiety and depression and wouldn’t notice it. I have at times lived with all of these things, all of the time.
The reason I have PTSD is because of a car accident. Nell and I were pedestrians on a busy road. One month to the day, after I turned three, Nell had taken me to see the Doctor because I was sick. I was kind of a sickly child with asthma troubles that meant I spent my childhood having to take the worst cherry flavoured medicine. To this day, I can’t eat or drink fake cherry anything.. What happened next is known to me because of the dress my Mum chose to wear that day which caught the eye of a stranger who then watched us and has without doubt, lived and relived the nightmare of that day. This stranger was the only witness to the accident that forever changed not only my life, but also the lives of my beloved family who lost their daughter, sister and wife. My Mum was the Head Theatre Nurse of a private hospital in the town where I was born when she died. Her family, her friends, her peers and those she worked under respected her. She was ahead of her time, a full-time working Mum who went back to her beloved job when I was six months old. The early 70’s were a different time; the expected roles for women didn’t look like they do today. When I was two my Mum ended her relationship with my Dad because they didn’t get along as they were the opposite of each other and Nell wanted something more in her life. She was progressive, strong, intelligent and she loved fashion hence her beautiful 70’s dress that caught one very important person’s eye.
Nell and I had to cross a main road, six lanes wide with a big zebra crossing on it so we could go to the Chemist and buy some more medicine. On our first part of crossing the road, we were both walking on the crossing with me on Nell’s left, holding her hand. When we got to the concrete island that marks the middle of the road and for what will forever be the luckiest moment in my life, Mum picked me up and put me onto her right hip. As we stepped off the island, a car had stopped to wait for us to cross. Mum was talking to me and we were looking away from the oncoming traffic when a car in the next lane did not see the stopped car or Mum and I walking across the crossing until it was too late. My Mum took the full force of that hit on her left side. She had managed to save my life by swapping the side I was on. Maybe she instinctively knew? Or maybe I had a guardian angel with me that day? I don’t know. What I do know is that day I lost an angel. We all did.
I have PTSD because every year, my body remembers this accident. I don’t. I don’t remember it, I don’t think about it. It just is. But my body and soul have its impact, imprinted and they mourn every year. They remember the hurt and pain. Excruciatingly well. Whether I want to or not my body remembers my injuries, my mind remembers the feelings and energy of it and my heart remembers its pain. Around July (Nell’s birthday), I start to feel the heaviness creeping in which is like wearing a blanket over your life. I don’t suddenly wake up on my Mums birthday feeling this way. It ends up that way but it starts as a nervous energy that I feel at the edges of my being which I have now become hyper aware of, sensing it almost immediately. Over time it grows into lots of overwhelming feelings and emotions, all mixed in together which lasts for a while over the course of these anniversaries until it dissipates and I pick myself up to keep walking through life. I started to notice this yearly pattern, around ten or so years ago because I had slowly stopped feeling numb. I had found happiness in my life with my own little beloved family who had shown me what joy was, what happiness felt like and that it was possible to have these things in bigger sound bites than a fleeting emotion.
Growing up I used to feel so empty all the time, devoid of any happiness or hope and at the same time, I was full of anxiety, depression and grief. Nothing could hurt me or come close to the edges of my pain because I had such a vast amount of nothingness inside jammed full of different emotions. As I said at the start of my story, I haven’t had much luck with having a Mum. I have been blessed to have some truly wonderful Mother figures in my life, my Gran (Nell’s Mum) is my hero and I have always looked up to her. She was another wonderful woman, who was part of her community and loved by them and her family. She was a farm girl and was fierce at heart. She raised me for a few years after my Mum died, ever so staunch in her approach to life and keeping her chin up in the aftermath of turning off the life support for her eldest daughter. We would look up each night to find the first star of the evening whilst reciting “Star light, star bright” and telling that star (my Mum) how much we loved her. I still think of that when I see the first star out for the evening. The other remarkable Mother figure I am lucky enough to have in my life is my Aunt CB, Nell’s sister. As with all the women in my ancestry, she is endearing, no nonsense and intelligent with a heart made of solid gold and an eternal source of inspiration to me. We are talking about a lady who packed up her job and her life in her 50’s and went to learn how to drive a big arsed, road making machine alongside her hubby in the middle of nowhere. What a living legend and I might add, she was amazing at it!
The next “Mother” to enter my life was when I was seven and is someone I refer to as Monster. I am not going to go into many details of this chapter because I want this to be a celebration of the Mother’s that graced my life with love. Monster did not love me. She hated me and she made sure I knew exactly how much she hated me. She also did an incredible job of teaching me to hate myself too. It was stubborn in its conviction and destruction and became the next layer of heaviness that was added into the mix of my anxiety, depression and grief. Thankfully she departed my life when I was 15 and after many, many years of her reigning supreme in my life, I can say I no longer give her any space in my mind, consciously. I have let her and her poisonous ways go to a big extent, but I do have some residue of her handiwork left in my subconscious. Once she left my life physically, her years of emotional abuse have still played havoc. She was no longer there to barrage me with her emotional mistreatment so the natural thing to do when you’re suddenly thrust outside of your comfort zone (even if it’s a living hell zone) is to run back into it. I picked up that invisible bat and kept on beating myself with it because I didn’t know how to live without it. I am teaching myself to use a feather instead of a bat. Baby steps!
When I was nineteen, my Dad fell in love with a wonderful woman who went on to become his second wife and my step Mum. They were together nearly twenty years, and were amazing parents to my stepbrothers, stepsister and I. They weren’t perfect but they tried their hardest, they were loving and did their best to guide us all, through our lives. Jude and I had a tough start because well.. I had a shit start with Mum’s mostly so I wasn’t going to get close to another one. I often felt like an outsider in my new family’s lives and thankfully they moved (a mere 16 hour drive away) which was a good space for me to be free as a young adult. I moved around and travelled overseas and tried to find out who I was. Jude and I bonded more once I became a Mum myself, and though I was very wary and sensitive in the early years, we developed a beautiful relationship with each other and towards the end of Jude’s life we had become very close. She was very inspiring to me as she herself faced and overcame many obstacles in her own life. I am thankful for the time I got to spend with her; she was a Mother who loved me unconditionally, like I was her own flesh and blood. Jude was so proud of me and never hesitated in telling me that. I miss her every day. In 2009, Jude had her first stroke and even though she recovered from it mostly, she never fully recovered. She never drove a car on the road again (something she loved to do) but my Dad bought her a ride on lawn mower (she had always wanted one) and she loved mowing the five acres of land that she and my Dad had. She taught herself to use her bad hand to give my husband the bird that she showed us proudly one night on Skype. She was awesome. And funny. After having another, much smaller stroke in 2010, Jude seemed like she was on the road back to health when 2011 came along.
2011 was a truly hard year for a lot of people. My family included. Every part of my family was affected in the end. And at one point I challenged the universe with “what else have you got?”… To talk about the year and the extent of it’s reach on my whole family, I have to start at it's beginning. We started the year with my beloved Gran in hospital. My Gran had been suffering with Dementia for quite a number of years and it had gotten to the point where it was getting a bigger hold on her mind. In 2009 we made the decision for my little family and I to move back up to my hometown where my Gran still lived so I could help my Aunt CB look after her. She was slowly succumbing to the Dementia that had been floating around the outskirts of her mind for so long and my duty as my Mothers daughter and my Grans granddaughter was to do anything I could to help my family and help the woman who had done anything she could to help me. Moving back and seeing my Gran this way was heartbreaking because the lady that I knew and loved, who had raised me and treated me as her own daughter was almost gone. The strength that she always carried with her was slowly being swapped for fear. She was still at the point where she was good for most of the time but she also knew her mind was in trouble. I remember sitting with her one day, a day that was an off day for her mentally but I could sense the woman that I knew and loved, the funny, sharp as a tack and smart as a whip woman that raised my Mother, Aunty, Uncles and I. She was trapped inside a body and a mind that she no longer recognised. It was almost like she was this small little figure, sitting inside of herself on a tiny chair, deep inside a dark body that felt foreign and the only light source in that dark place came from way above through the blank stares of her eyes. And she knew it. One of the hardest parts was that she knew and was afraid.
We spent a couple of lovely years together leading up to 2011, my Son got to know the woman whom I loved and respected beyond everything and on the very odd occasion and for a fleeting moment, he got to see and experience the woman that I knew. Gran would occasionally say or do something playfully with my boy just like she had done with me when I was growing up and for that, I am forever grateful. I didn’t want my Son to remember Gran as she was in front of him because she was a mere shadow of her former self. She was and always will be one of the strongest women I will ever know. My beloved Gran is someone I aspire to be like. She was our everything and the Matriarch of our extended family. She started the year of 2011 off sick which we quickly found out was pneumonia and she was hospitalised. Cyclone Yasi hit us all up in Far North Queensland and it should have been an obvious warning then that 2011 was going to kick our arses. Gran soon recovered after a few months and was sent back to her home but her Dementia had taken an even greater hold and she no longer recognised her home or who the people were in her photos. She still recognised those of us who lived around her and saw her every day, thankfully. One Sunday night in early April, surrounded by her beloved family, my beautiful Gran suffered a stroke as she was trying to get up. My Gran was a very sensible woman who did not want to be a burden on anyone so had organised long before, a “do not resuscitate” measure in case anything happened to her. The stroke she had was fairly massive and so my family and I rallied around. After all the machines were moved out of her room, we proceeded to sit with her as we talked, laughed, slept, ate, cried, read to her, listened to music, pondered life’s important questions and mysteries including everything in between for just over two and a half weeks. We had to start taking it in shifts because some of us had to go back to work as the real world outside does not stop moving just because you do. We all spent time at the hospital every day and we got to know each other better than before. We became closer as we shared the stories of Gran’s colourful life, the wonderful Matriarch of our family and how lucky we were to have her in our lives. The Doctors told us that without any help or influence from them, a person could survive a few days. I guess they weren’t aware of the stubborn gene cause Red Line Rosey went almost three weeks. It was the best of times and the worst of times.
I was relieved for my Gran after she passed because her greatest fear was to be locked up in an old person’s home, withering away to nothing and no one. She was at the point where we had to make plans to put her into the next level of care, which was a full-blown nursing home so I’m glad she escaped before that became her fate. I was mostly sad for my beloved Aunt CB because even though she knew what it was like to lose a sister, losing your mother is a whole other ball game. I think she was lucky to spend most of her life with her Mum, they were the best of friends and had a lot of adventures together. She had memories to hold on to and be hurt by. I didn’t know what it felt like to know someone so well before losing them but I'm so glad that she got to experience being close to her Mum. I would feel hurt because I didn’t know any of the small details about my Mum that most people take for granted like for instance, what her favourite colour was. I didn’t know my Mum. I have gotten to know my Mum through the memories of others, her letters and notes she wrote and the few trinkets and memories I still have of her. To me she was a star that twinkled in the night skies so to have such a beautiful and long lasting relationship with your Mother, where you know all the normal things that people know about their Mums, would also have to be devastating. My Aunt of course much like her Mother, is a strong soul whom I love dearly and who has shown me what it is to be graceful in the face of grief. Like us all, we have our moments but to be able to keep walking with your chin held high, is inspiring.
2011 kept rattling along and in August my wonderful Step-Mum Jude had her third and final stroke. It was a big one and it took her away from our lives down here and up into heaven with those who’ve gone before her. It was devastating to watch my Dad lose his beloved wife, and even though both of my Mum’s died in different circumstances, they both spent their final days hooked up to machines that had to be turned off. I cannot imagine what my Dad went through with his grief after Jude died. My Dad who has always looked so young for his age had suddenly aged, 1000 fold overnight. My heart broke into a million pieces for Dad and Jude’s family. She left behind her children and grandchildren whom she loved dearly. Jude’s death was and still is hard for me because of the circumstances surrounding what happened. It was traumatic for both her and my Dad and he had to do it on his own until the Ambulance arrived to take my Step-Mum to hospital. Jude’s final conscious moments before she went into a coma must have been incredibly frightening and very traumatic for both Jude and my Dad. It hurts my heart that their last moments together were so hectic and vicious. Our bodies are capable of many amazing things and when you see the other side of what they can do, it is devastating. I wish it had been different for them both, I know they had many wonderful years together and built a life full of love and adventures but I struggle in myself to let go of how it ended. My Father, bless his cotton socks is an incredibly resilient person who has picked himself up, dusted himself off and keeps putting one foot in front of the other foot. He is an inspiration to us all.
Jude's passing was also another marker of death around my birthday and even though it seems cruel, there is a small amount of comfort that two of my beloved Mums, the ones that are tied to me by not only being a Mum to me but through the connection of being married to my Dad, are both linked to my day of birth. Nell’s anniversary is one month after my birthday and Jude is two days before it. Together forever.
And this is the part where I dared to ask the universe that fateful question.. “What else have you got?” Never ask that question cause what happens is you get an answer and it’s never the answer you want. The day of Nell’s anniversary, five weeks after we lost Jude, my family and I were down spending time with my Dad, trying to help him and be helpful to him through his grief when we decided to get out of the house and go and have some fun with our boy. It had already been a big year for us all and it's a lot to go through when your only 11 so we decided to spend some quality time with our beloved son. We had been with my Dad for a week and he needed some time to himself and with Nell’s anniversary upon us, my husband, son and I took ourselves off to a water park that is a couple of hours away from where my parents have their property and where we were staying. Half way through the day whilst we were letting our hair down on a day that is notoriously hard for me, we got the awful news. My husband happened to look at his phone that had been locked away with our belongings and saw that he had over thirty missed calls. The universe had tooketh away again. The last of our Mother’s, my loving and amazing Mother in law also suffered the fate of a stroke. (You have read that right, it’s not a typing error. I know, it sounds like an extremely sick and twisted joke, except it’s not. Our beautiful ladies that left us that year, all died from a stroke within five months of each other). My husband drove my Son and I to Brisbane so we could catch a train back to my Dad’s and he drove for nine hours down to where his devastated family were, sitting around our beloved Mary Ann who had suffered a large bleed with lots of damage and had no chance of recovery. I went down the next day to spend Mary Ann’s last days with us surrounded by my loving and grieving family. This amazing woman who had opened her arms and tucked me firmly under her Matriarchal wing, was an incredibly strong lady that had moved her young family across the world alongside her husband with her fourth child on the way. She was small in stature but one not to be messed with and she did everything she could for her loved ones. Her family were her everything and she went above and beyond for them. She was always there for anyone who needed a friendly ear and a cup of tea. Mary Ann, you are sorely missed and forever loved. I was so worried about my husband, Father in law, Sister and Brother’s in law because again, I had an insight to what they were going to go through.
Well… I had an idea of it because truly you can never fully understand what someone else goes through. I can emphasise with anyone who is grieving and coming to terms with a loss of any kind. Even though I understand the indescribable emptiness that is full of ALL the emotions known to mankind, you can’t understand how each one of us is going to go through them because we all are so different. We are similar in structure (bones, blood, mind, conscious and unconscious thoughts) but worlds apart in how we act, see, think and process things; our genetic makeups are as different to each other as are our fingerprints. No two are the same so to me, no two people are going to grieve the same. Yes, we’ll all go through the different stages of grief (and yes, these are all the same) but we are each going to do it differently. It’s not a list that you’re going to tick off and then go onto the next stage. It doesn’t work like that. Going through this journey of mine and now with my eyes wide open has taught me that not only is no-one immune from going through this process but it doesn’t look the same for everyone.
No words will do any justice when you suffer a loss of a loved one that is close to you. You just have to go through the emotions that grief brings us daily, the ebbs and flows that like the ocean are always changing and unpredictable. After so many years, living in and out of my own grief, I can truly say that it never goes away. We learn to navigate life around it and with it. We sew it into our soul and eventually we learn how to carry it with us peacefully. You have to learn for your own sanity to give yourself a break. Some days you won’t be capable of jumping as high or higher than the day before. Sometimes you can’t jump at all. And that’s ok. It really is. I wish it were easy to move forward, to be able to fix something by simply flicking a switch or waving a magic wand.
When you suffer a loss or losses they leave big holes in your heart and in your life. And you will eventually learn to live with this hole in your life. You will. Sometimes that hole feels so big that it swallows you alive and there is nothing you can do. At other times, it is just there, a small reminder that you have loved and have been loved. This hole in your heart will never heal fully. It won’t and it’s ok. You don’t want it to heal up completely because then you won’t have a reminder about the person who left it. And you need to remember them. You need to keep their memory alive and to honour that amazing person who graced your life and loved you as you loved them. They are now but a memory forever imprinted in your mind and heart. They have become part of the invisible fabric that makes each of us unique and it is the fabric of our very being. It can be completely devastating when you realise you haven’t thought about your loved one. I have at times been through this with my Mother and was really hard on myself. It’s tough and you will blame and punish yourself. Be gentle. We are, after all only human and some days we have other things on our minds and in our hearts. Our loved ones aren’t going to be mad or hurt because life got in the way of our love for them for a small amount of time. They want us to live a life that we can be proud of. They are proud of us regardless.
My past for the most part, doesn’t hurt me at all because as I have said, it is a part of what makes me, me. I’m used to it. Because I’ve survived amongst all of this for most of my life, it just feels normal to me. There are times when it hurts too much and sometimes for what feels like, too long. I have had grief as a constant companion in my life for forty-two years this September. Even when I was young and didn’t understand what grieving was or that was what was happening to me, I was flooded with it all of the time. Right now and for the past couple of years, I have struggled. Struggled more than I ever have before. I know once again that I need help with this part of my grief that I just can’t quite shrug off. I feel like I have just cried the last two years of my life away, so many tears that once they show up in my eyes even slightly, I am unable to stop them falling until they can fall no longer. My cheeks are overtaken with flooding rivers of tears and in the end, I can’t tell if my tears are still falling or not. It’s the most I have ever cried in my whole life, at heart I am a total tomboy and barely cry at all. About anything. So here I am making up for all of these years that have been devoid of tears.
I have gone to get help several times over the years and the fact that I’m still so strongly affected tells me loud and clear that I have not dealt with everything. I need specialist help with this one. Talking about my past is my first step I’m taking in moving forward and doing something different. We all know that doing the same thing, over and over and expecting a different result is never going to work. Writing about the story of my life so far and releasing it out into the universe is my beginning of a new path, one that I have with my mind and heart chosen to do instead of what I have done for my lifetime so far. I’ve always been lead by my story in how I am with people. I rarely open up to others because I know where the consequences of this particular path leads to. Therefore people who have met me don’t know anything about this side of me. Most of my friends don’t know any of this about me. Because I did the only thing that I know how to do and that’s keep it inside. And this path of silence I have been on has led me here to this point, where I can no longer hide from my past. So I am setting it free.
I want to dedicate my writing of this piece to not only my lovely angels in heaven, but to all my amazing, real life angels here on earth. My Husband and my Son. Our extended family that is full of beautiful and amazing souls. The friends and family who I never ring to say I’m having a bad day (I’m sorry!), you are the ones who have helped me through difficult times that I may not have talked to you about but know that your kind and loving ways over these years, have always helped me through them. I’ve even met a new beautiful soul and another mother to stick in my corner who I’ve nicknamed Chanel No.5. I have truly been blessed. Amazing people surround me and for everyone in my life, I am forever grateful to you and have much love for you all. I know tomorrow I’ll wake up ready for the challenges of the day but for tonight, I’ll look skyward and search for those first few stars and remember all of my ladies who loved me unconditionally and shaped my world to make me who I am. And I’ll thank them. I’ll thank all of my Mothers and thank my lucky stars. Without them, I wouldn’t be here.
Much love to you for reading my story and many thanks, I am humbled that you chose to read about my journey to here. I want you to know that you are a strong, resilient person who was made to endure everything put on your path. We each have days that feel like we can’t go on or we can’t get past the obstacle in our way but I promise you can. If I can then you can. And being strong doesn’t mean you can never ask for help, being strong means knowing when you need to get help and asking for it. Please feel free to write to me at the bottom of this post or email me personally here. If by letting my story go out into the world encourages one person to reach out and get help to deal with their grief, I have done the right thing.
Much love and light,
THE LOW DOWN…
If you need to talk to somebody, here are a few places that can help (within Australia):
Lifeline or phone 13 11 14
Beyond Blue or phone 1300 22 4636
Headspace Youth Foundation or phone Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
For those who have suffered the loss of your Mum, this online support group is awesome:
If you are looking for a qualified specialist in your area (within Australia):
If you aren't in Australia, you would be able to google the above in your area to see what is available to you or feel free to email me and I'll see what I can do to find you help.
Also please check out:
There is a lot of resources on her site and her book I found to be incredibly helpful as a source of hope and understanding my own grief in the loss of my Mum.